This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
About the same time the Legislature infuriated Utahns with its now-abandoned clampdown on disclosing public records, Salt Lake City agreed to tighten its ethics ordinance to require more disclosure and to avoid any appearance of conflicts of interest.
By unanimous vote last month, the City Council amended its 12-year-old ethics guidebook to help ensure no council members or planning commissioners vote on policy when they have a financial or professional conflict.
"For a long time, we've had one of the strictest ethics ordinances in the state," says Council Chairwoman Jill Remington Love. "We don't let people buy us lunch. We don't take tickets to things."
Still, she says, the new language clarifies when a city officeholder may have a conflict of interest so "we don't vote, and we don't participate in the discussion."
Other governmental bodies simply require that officials declare their conflicts but still allow that person to vote.
Veteran Councilman Carlton Christensen, who agrees the city is "considerably ahead" of other jurisdictions on the good-government count, notes council members serve part time with full-time careers.
"In part-time politics, you're never going to have an elimination of conflicts," he says. But the goal is to craft standards that "clearly spell out" those instances.
The city's ethics rules were adopted in 1998 in response to a financial "giftgate" scandal that embroiled then-Mayor Deedee Corradini. It was amended in 2007 to bar elected officers, their spouses and children from applying for or receiving a loan or grant money from the city and to require elected officials to report when someone other than the city pays for travel-related costs.
The purpose of the ordinance is to "prevent improper influence, avoid the appearance of impropriety and prohibit public servants from receiving unjust financial gain from public service. It also seeks to increase public confidence by assuring that governmental actions are taken ethically."
The standards govern elected officials, employees, board and commission members, suppliers and city service providers.
By adding "professional" to financial interests, the city hopes its voting officials are compelled to recuse themselves during any conflict. The amendments first were hatched during the council's 2010 retreat. The legislative body used the past year and outside legal counsel to incorporate the changes.
The city's gift prohibition remained largely unchanged. Anything under $50, and considered "de minimis," is allowed, though language specifies that no favor should be gained.
Other tweaks include an updated definition of "relatives" to include step relationships and adult designees, revised limits on leadership expense and legal defense funds, and a rule that elected officials annually file a disclosure that provides the identities of fund contributors.
"This I see as an improvement, but it's more of a refinement," Christensen says. "Very few ethics ordinances come to this level."